A variety of owls
Robert Genn

August 6, 2010

Dear Rodney,Jack Shadbolt was one of those artists who never flagged in his pursuit of variety. 
A great reader, writer, speaker, teacher, wanderer, visitor to museums and observer 
of nature, he had more periods in a lifetime of painting than your average ten. Pen 
and ink, charcoal, watercolour, acrylic, oils, gouache--panels, paper, card, 
canvases and grandiose murals--nothing stopped this cocky, moody guy. "Twenty-five 
Birds of Good Omen" (ink and acrylic on watercolour board) always seemed to me to 
exemplify his energy. We've illustrated it along with others at the top of the 
current clickback. 

Every one of the owls in that painting has a distinct personality. Singular 
species--dramatic variety. Jack believed in pushing his mind, and while intuition 
was important, he felt an artist had to be perpetually flexing the boundaries. 
There's wisdom in those owls.

While an artist's hand may naturally slip toward homeostasis and repetition, the 
human heart reaches for variety and novelty. Whether your work is representational 
or abstract, monumental or modest, here are a few of Jack's thoughts while you're 
moving that brush:

Make a little thing and then a large one. 

Make a simple shape and then a complex one.

Make conjoining edges soft, hard, run over, or falling short. 

When repeating motifs, vary size and direction.

Don't fear winking, blinking, teasing, humming humour.

Cruise the work for further potentials for imagery.

Obfuscate, cover up, smudge or overhaul boring passages.

Make gradations where possible, both wet and dry.

Mix things up--numbers, owls, flags, butterflies. 

Look for opportunities to monumentalize and feature.

Let motifs cross over and interfere with other motifs.

Look for things that suggest other things, and hint further.

Relish the opulence, lusciousness and seduction of paint.

Point, and let things react against one another.

Patch, and let things lie close and love each other.

Try to think of and live in the fineries of Nature: cocoons, flowers, birds, 
butterflies, eggs, reflections, leaves, sticks, bones, echoes, etc. Think also of 
emblems, badges, mandalas, signs, glyphs, totems, birth, wonder, light. Rawness, 
death, decay and disfigurement also have their place. Life and art is a bombardment 
of variety. Those owls know it, why can't we?

Best regards,


PS: "An artist is no bigger than the size of his mind." (Jack Shadbolt, 1909-1998)

Esoterica: The trials of a restless soul: Every day is a restart, a trial run and a 
stumbling sortie. Pushing yourself, you set up for both failure and triumph. It's 
good to keep in mind we're in the business of showing people something that they 
may only partly understand or not yet know at all. We are in the business of 
prodding. Variety within regularity cracks open the hard-boiled shell. When you 
think of it, ours is quite a valuable profession.